Can Ubuntu Linux become the one operating system to run them all -- PC, TV and phone?
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Evidently undaunted by the surfeit of mobile operating systems, Canonical is extending its popular Ubuntu distribution of the Linux operating system to work on smartphones.
In so doing, it enters a market dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS, and it will have to fight for recognition with Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS, Samsung's Bada and Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. It will also be competing with Mozilla's forthcoming open-source Firefox OS mobile operating system.
For several years, Linux has been used as the basis for mobile phone operating systems, including Android, Firefox OS, MeeGo and Tizen.
Ubuntu's mobile interface will make it the only one among the three major desktop operating systems -- Windows, OS X and Linux -- that can also power mobile devices. However, it's debatable whether convergence is necessary if developers can create applications that can be adapted to desktop and mobile operating system variants without much trouble. Apple's iOS and OS X are related closely enough to be candidates for eventual convergence. And Windows Phone 8 overlaps with Windows 8 since Microsoft replaced its Windows CE-based mobile phone architecture with a Windows NT kernel.
Jane Silber, CEO at Canonical, believes that the converged version of Ubuntu, dubbed Unity, will find fans among businesses. "We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions," she said in a statement. "Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability."
Canonical claims that 20 million desktop PCs run Ubuntu today and that close to 10% of the desktop and laptops that will ship in 2014 will come with Ubuntu installed. It also sees Ubuntu as an operating system for TVs.
Canonical's ambition to expand its enterprise presence will put it in direct competition with Google, which has been wooing businesses for several years fairly successfully. It too is pitching security, cost and manageability through Google Apps and its Chrome OS hardware, a message amplified by the popularity of Google's Android devices.
And that's to say nothing of Microsoft's considerable interest in holding on to its business customers or of the extent to which employees are setting the business IT agenda by bringing in their mobile phones and tablets, which probably aren't running Ubuntu.
Ubuntu does have one advantage that may attract hardware partners: It is compatible with the typical Android Board Support Package, meaning it will work with many of the mobile chip sets that already support Android. Canonical has also taken a page from Apple's playbook by running a cloud service, Ubuntu One, to tie its devices together and to facilitate files management, and an online app store, the Ubuntu Software Center.
Canonical plans to demonstrate Ubuntu on mobile phones at 2013 CES in Las Vegas next week, with delivery on devices expected in late 2013 or early 2014.
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